The Walk-up to the Boston Massacre John Rowe Finds Himself in the Middle tuesday October 2, 1768, 2 Days into the British Occupation
The walk up to the Boston Massacre began on Long Wharf, October 1, 1768. Four British regiments supported by fourteen ships of the line landed to occupy Boston. Their intent was to end mob rule and permit customs’ officials to collect taxes. An explosion did not happen on the first day of occupation. In fact, the British troops were expected and ignored. In no time, the impact of 2,000 soldiers supported by 1,000 sailors among a Boston population of 15,000, became overwhelming and explosive. By November the head count of the British Army in Boston would reach four-thousand, nearly the equal of the number of adult citizens of Boston.
To John Rowe, the second day of the occupation quickly challenged his loyalty to the “Crown”. While sitting at the British Coffee House, with other loyal citizens and customs’ officials, he was orally accosted by Captain Dundass of the British Navy. Here is John Rowe’s diary entry of the conversation; “Ha John are you there—Dammy I expected to have heard of your being hanged before now, for Dammy You deserve it”. Captain Dundass confirmed to John he was not joking. Dundass continued on, “Damn Incendiary . . . I shall see you hanged in your Shoes. . . .” [i]
John Rowe was a wealthy merchant. He immigrated to Boston with his brother. It appears they arrived before 1740 and they came with wealth. He was quick to capitalize on his position as a merchant by providing the British Admiralty with space to rent in his warehouse. It became convenient to store and purchase provisions for the Navy. He was active in criticizing the customs’ officials use of their office for personal gain. [ii] Yet, he was a loyal Englishman until March 17, 1776, as the British evacuated Boston and ransacked his warehouses.
John Rowe maintained his balance through the critical events that lead to the Boston Massacre and the Tea Party by working with everyone regardless of their political disposition.
His warehouse at Rowe’s Wharf was rented by the British Admiralty as their administrative headquarters for North America. He housed gunpowder for the British military.
He rented two houses to British officers, each for 20 pounds sterling per year. In today’s dollar, this would be $3,589.96, for a year’s rental. It is probable John could not elicit this amount from a local citizen. To his benefit, British officers often came with hard currency.
General Thomas Gage and Loyalist, James Oliver, lawyer, treasurer, stamp tax administrator and Thomas Hutchinson Assistant Governor, were often dinner guests.
Yet it was well known that John associated with the radical merchants and lawyers, like James Otis, William Molineux, John Adams, John Hancock and Paul Revere.
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